CHILES THE HEART OF THE CUISINE


Red chile sauce floated into California from Mexico as on a chile river. Discovered by the Spaniards when they rode into the Valley of Mexico in 1521, they filled their pockets with seeds and dropped plants along the way through California, Arizona and New Mexico. The beloved chili came in all shapes and in all degrees of heat.

Chile heat may not be to everyone’s liking, but it is an essential ingredient in Mexican cooking. Where would our beloved enchiladas and tacos be without red chili sauce?

The smell of roasting peppers is addictive, much like he smell of roasting garlic. I roast them over an open flame before stuffing with cheese for chile relenos. The kitchen is filled with the good smell of cooking, and it says that dinner is not far away.

As Californians we understandingly eat a lot of Mexican cuisine. and their are plenty of Mexican taquerias around if you don’t want to cook. Years ago we hosted a couple of teenage boys from Kodiak, Alaska for several days. Knowing the appetites of teenage boys, I prepared a large tray of enchiladas and another of make your own tacos plus a big pot of pinto beans. They ate sparingly, and after dinner they asked to be taken to the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken store where they purchased several dinners to bring back home. I had not taken into consideration that they had never eaten Mexican food. I guess unless you are raised in the chile river realm, a plate of good old fried chicken is the best bet; after all what’s not to like?

On my first evening in New Mexico, they asked if I liked chiles. Until that time my relationship with chiles was in a pot of beans, which I liked very much. When dinner was served I was surprised to see a large bowl of stewed chiles set before me. I remember drinking a lot of Kool-Ade to cool me down. In New Mexico large strands of chiles are strung together and hung beside the outside door to dry. You just pick one off when you need it.

It’s interesting to find the use of chilies in cooking is world wide. My friend from Jamaica grows the pretty and very hot Scotch Bonnet pepper. Asian cuisine claims other varieties of pepper, and the Middle East uses still another. Chile heat fills your nostrils, makes your eyes water, feels like your mouth is on fire. So why do we love it? Search me; I think it’s just because it’s good.

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THE ART OF THE LOOM


Coming into Southwest Indian country for the first time some fifty-five years ago was a revelation in many ways. We drove through the hot desert land of Chumash, Hopi and Navajo before arriving in New Mexico, home of the Pueblo people. My own art had taken a turn toward the Southwest, and we had begun collecting a few pots and pieces of jewelry from indigenous artists.

I was fortunate to have my good friend Georgia Abeita Oliver as my companion while I accompanied her “home” for the summer. Wherever we are born, home-going is a special occasion which never gets old. There were friends and relatives to meet and greet, and a cultural education for me as a guest.

To be steeped and accepted into the culture of another is a privilege for which I have been grateful these past many years.

The domestic skills such as weaving, pottery, jewelry and basketry seem to be practiced primarily by individual villages. Pueblo and Hopi pots, but Navajo weaving and jewelry.


Two Grey Hills rug, Navajo

My husband was staying in the La Fonda hotel in Albuquerque several years before my trip, where he saw a very large Two Grey Hills rug on the wall. The story goes that a customer wished to buy the rug, and he was sent to the Two Grey Hills village to bargain for it. He came back dismayed because though he offered them twice its price, they refused to sell to him. I had a similar situation a few years later when I commission a rug after I was back home. When it arrived, the rug’s colors were not what I had wanted, so I returned it with the hope of another more suitable rug to come; but did not hear from them again. We are, after all, two separate cultures with different views on what is important. I did not make the same mistake again in all my years of travel in Indian country.

Why is it that the Navajo are the master weavers? Why not the Pueblo? The Hopi do weave lovely small runners, though and the men weave their prospective bride a burial shawl. I always thought that was either a threat or a warning.


“How the Navajo Got The Rug” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

My own interpretation of how the Navajo got the skills to weave is that maybe it just came down from the sky. That is as good an explanation as any. We met an old weaver just outside Taos, patriarch of the Trujillo family, who had been weaving since he was a boy. He made us a nice large room size rug which is in my studio.

It is easy to imagine how so much of the architecture got its beginnings; the whole desert terrain with its mesas and sculptural forms is ever present. Making use of natural materials like clay, wool, and natural dyes keeps people connected to the land. I have always preferred to work with clay for that same reason. It connects me also with my own forebears who were potters for over 200 years in England. It just feels natural to me when I think of the generations before me who made their living through love of clay.

The Saturday markets are crowded with people bringing everything from pickups full of wool to homemade tamales. In fact the best tamale I ever ate was at a flea market in Gallup, New Mexico. In the days I first visited New Mexico and Arizona, one frequently saw the wife’s mother sitting in the bed of the truck with the bundles of sheep skin for sale. She usually was in a large chair like a queen surveying her subjects.

I bought a cradle board made by an old woman who had brought only one to sell. A young pregnant girl was trying to decide if she had money enough to buy it for $40. Seeing me waiting in the wings, she graciously offered it to me. I said I noticed that she might need it more than I did, and she said “But YOU want it.” I have yet to see someone in our society be that generous of spirit.

Native people, whether Southwest or Northcoast, as somewhat suspicious of strangers, but through the years I have known and cared for people from both cultures, I have always found acceptance and love.

PERSPECTIVES OF A CHURCH


“Ranchos de Taos”
watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

It’s entire name is “San Francisco de Asis Mission church and it has stood in the plaza in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico since 1816. Possibly one of the most photographed churches in the Southwest, its rear view has attracted the attention of artists from all over the world because of its smooth sculptural adobe form.

Ansel Adams used the church as part of his Taos Pueblo art book Georgia O’Keeffe described it as one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards. I have been fascinated by its colonial era beauty since I first came upon it in the 1960’s. I have painted it many times in watercolor, oils and acrylic and it changes each time, and each time I paint it, I love it more.

Front view of Ranchos de Taos Church

ARRIVAL AT TAOS Kate’s Journal


Episode 28 Taos

Taos “Taos In Winter” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Taos stands resplendent in the late afternoon sun, magnificent against the backdrop of the Sandia Mountains. Taos is the jewel in the crown of the nineteen New Mexican Pueblos, unchanged throughout the centuries, despite the influx of visitors who come to marvel at the three story architecture still inhabited by this proud people. The tourist town of Taos and the Pueblo village of Taos are separate places, and no where is this more apparent than in the peace and quiet of a sleepy summer afternoon, with a few wispy white clouds drifting around the mountain, and the buildings painted hues of pink or yellow with deep purple shadows, all accomplished with a solar paintbrush. It is the most highly photographed of all the villages, and the camera fee has increased throughout the years. In the l960’s it was $5, but a number of years ago when we were there, it had grown to $15. There are restricted places where visitors may not enter or photograph, because of course this is home to many people. Of course, common courtesy demands that permission must be obtained before photographing the people, and a fee tendered, whatever the going rate.

It is estimated that the pueblo was built between 1000 and 1450 AD and is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. There are over 1900 people in the community with some of the people having modern homes near their fields and stay in the pueblo in the cooler weather. There are about 150 people who live year around in the pueblo.

Many families still conduct their businesses in their residence in the pueblo. We first met Georgia’s friend Tony Reyna, in his jewelry shop on the road into the pueblo. Tony , who is now 100 years old, still sells the very best Indian jewelry from the finest artisans in the area. Tony’s son now runs the shop.

Tony Reyna Tony Reyna
kiva san ildefonsoKiva San Ildefonso

kiva interiorKiva Ruin showing sipapu in floor

The kiva is a place for religious ritual, and solemn ceremonies. Though there were no “Keep Out” signs posted, the sight of the ladder emerging from underground sent the mysterious message that this was a holy place. I felt it to be spiritual yet crackling with life from the ages. Ancient kivas had a sipapu, or small hole in the floor, symbolizing the portal through which man arrived.

Taos Man 2 Taos Man

Photo Taos 1966 Taos 1966

Taos Cemetery Old Taos cemetery at sunset

Bert Geer Phillips and Ernest L. Blumenschein came to Taos, New Mexico as part of a tour of the western United States in 1898, but upon seeing Taos, decided to stay. Within a few years other American and European artists joined them and they formed the Taos Society of Artists which heralded the beginning of the Taos art colony, who collected around the visually spectacular Taos Pueblo. The founding members fostered the emergence of a major school of American painting.

Many artists were drawn to Taos due to the presence of Mabel Dodge Luhan, a wealthy heiress from Buffalo, New York who had run a prominent art salon in Florence, Italy, and Manhattan, New York, before settling in Taos in 1917. After both divorced their spouses, she married a Pueblo native, Antonio Lujan, and built a house. She spelled her married name ‘Luhan” as it was easier for her friends to pronounce.

Luhan carried on the tradition of the European salon. For decades she invited artists, writers, and other luminaries to be inspired by Taos and each other. Among them were Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, author D.H. Lawrence and his wife.

As the summer drew to a close, we spent a lot of time in Santa Fe, which was not completely taken over by the tourists yet, and was beginning to develop a thriving gallery business on Canyon Road. I entertained highly unrealistic dreams of living there, being quite sure that Dr. Advice would thoroughly enjoy running a gallery while I spent my time painting and sculpting off in the hills somewhere.

In the week before we departed for home, there were many bread bakings at Isleta, stewed chile feasts and much laughter. On one such evening, more women seemed to be dressed in traditional clothing, and there was lots of giggling and whispers as if a secret were there trying to escape. I became aware that I was the object of their mirth when Georgia announced that she was giving me a new name. After much thought and many discussions with the other women, she had decided that my new name should be “Pacho Fa” which means Three Feathers, signifying family, friends and Art. It was a special moment for me climaxing a long visit in which we began as strangers wary of one another, and ended with a community which had embraced and honored me as a friend.

THE SOURCE Kate’s Journal


Episode 26 New Mexico 1966

How the Navajos Got The Blanket
<img src="https://pachofaunfinished.files.wordpress.com

It has been said that 'Spider Woman' taught the Navajo to weave their extraordinary blankets, but I believe that knowledge was pulled down eons ago from somewhere beyond the clouds.

High above the desert plain lies the village of Acoma, called Sky City.

We drove up the steep winding road where men with rifles slung across their arms stopped us and forced us to go back. The dance we had hoped to attend was open only to residents of Acoma, and we were strongly encourage to return another day.

488px-Acoma_Pueblo_Sky_City_2 Acoma, New Mexico “Sky City”

Georgia and Emmett had been teachers in Acoma after graduation from Baconne, and when we arrived, she was warmly greeted by former students who had grown up and become parents themselves in the ensuing years.

According to tribal tradition, Acoma has been occupied for 2,000 years, though by local maps it is only 800 years, much of that time only accessible by climbing up the mesa with foot power.. An arial view shows similarity to Masada in the Judean desert, where the Jews committed mass suicide rather than being captured by the Romans. People have always sought protection by building up into the hills. Today Acoma is an active thriving community, but in the ’60’s it was just beginning to get a modern identity.

Indian ruins “Mesa Verde” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen Another stone village hidden in the rocky hills of northern New Mexico.

Isleta, a small farming village situated about five miles from Albuquerque, is Georgia’s home village, and would be one of our bases while staying with various relatives throughout the area. In spite of being an only child, we would discover many “cousins”.

We were invited to help make the bread early one morning. Dragging ourselves out of sleeping bags to the heat of a July morning, we found ourselves late to the job, as the bread was all ready to pop into the oven.

Reyes Abeita Isleta
Cousin Rejas was one of the the bread makers for the village, where her bread was famous. When the baking was done, the loaves were spread out on a blanket on the floor to cool.

The two room house house was made of adobe with a hard packed mud floor, solid as cement. A sofa divided the room which suddenly filled with a number of village women who came to sit and visit and stare at the newcomer. When they determined that I was OK, they dressed me in their native clothes and draped me with their turquoise jewelry. While admiring my “Pueblo” self, I fell backward onto the loaves of bread cooling on the floor. It was there I experienced the most profound spirit of graciousness when our hostess told me it was “OK, we have to break it up anyway.”

Kayti Isleta

Our next stop was Georgia’s cousin Diego and his wife where we would spend the night. They lived in quite a nice house, larger by far than the others. They had been featured in a Hollywood movie several years before and were considered a little famous. Diego was a poet and promised to read some of his poetry to us after dinner. His wife was busily whitewashing the walls of their living room, but paused to ask if I liked chili. Anticipating a pot of California chili beans I said of course, but when dinner arrived, it was a plate of stewed hot chilies! We cooled it off a little with cantaloup and Kool-aid, but I thought twice before I said I liked anything unrecognizable again.

Their daughter was a published writer as well, so Diego read from her book along with his own after dinner, while telling us stories from their days in Hollywood. He was not well-liked in the village as many people who rise above their “station” are not.

Diego’s wife told us to put our sleeping bags close to the wall under the open windows in the living room, as some of the men in the village had imbibed a bit too much alcohol and often shot off their guns and shouted bad things about Diego, who had long since fallen into an easy sleep.

She didn’t seem too worried, so we did as told and stretched out on our sleeping bags under the open window. Shortly thereafter, the boys, having worked up their jealousy over the unfairness of life, arrived in full force to taunt the sleeping Diego and use up a little ammunition. Scary? Yes indeed, though they didn’t come close to the house or the open window, but slowly drifted away to their own beds, and an undoubted hangover the next day.

My own thoughts spurred on by Diego’s poetry:

CANTALOUP AND KOOL-AID
by kayti rasmussen

Where is the door to the story?
Can we all walk through it?

A story lives on the lips of
Diego from Hollywood days.
Far from this dusty village
where nothing happens.

Cantaloup and Kool-Aid
and a bedroll on the floor.
In this stone village
where he tells his stories.

The soft nicker of
curious Indian ponies
offer a lullabye sleepsong.

Even the tree outside our windows
seemed to listen with ruffled
leaves tipping and cooling.

INTO THE LAND OF THE SUN Kate’s Journal


Episode 24 New Mexico, 1966

247“People of the Sun” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

The road leading east from Barstow is straight as a string, and the brilliant red sun resting on the highway as we drove straight into it on the second morning of our trip was eerily suggestive of an omen; but for good or bad?

I became aware of the effects of extreme heat when we passed the remains of several steers in quiet repose alongside the highway.

The Grand Canyon became our first campsite. Glorious in its immensity, I was overwhelmed to look down into the view which has inspired countless generations of man to wax poetic. Below us, the canyon surged with life; eagles fly and small drifts of morning fog moved. The air is fresh and clear and sharp as if we are looking down from a plane; a disembodied feeling. We gaze down with wonder on eagles flying through what seemed to be the depths of the canyon.

We stretched out in sleeping bags on the ground on a bed of pine needles, after a steak dinner cooked over a small campfire. For dessert we gathered a few pine nuts off the small trees surrounding our campsite.

My delightful traveling companion was Georgia Abeita Oliver, an Isleta Pueblo from New Mexico, and teacher of my children. Her husband, Emmett Oliver was a Quinault from the coast of Washington, also an educator. They had met at Baconne, an all-Indian college in New Mexico. While she had gone on to the University of New Mexico, he went to the University of Redlands in California.

I was put in charge of finances as Georgia was the driver, and we would share the cost of the gas. We had decided to keep our expenses to a minimum, and use all the money we could afford on books, pots, and artwork. Food would be a secondary expenditure. We would be staying with Georgia’s relatives all along the way, so our lodging expense would be minimal.

The next day we arrived in Laguna, where we would stay with Georgia’s two elderly aunts and their brother. He and one aunt had been teachers and the other aunt was a nurse. They lived not in the old village, but in an enormous house below the old village of Laguna. Their father, an engineer from England, and two other engineers who each married Indian women, had come to survey the land for the United States. The building, which was now in fine repair, had been a deserted mission, and was large enough for each man to live in his own space and raise families of 10-11 children, most of whom still lived in the area.

Before dinner we walked up the hill to the old village. The ancient stones which formed a stairway were worn with indentations from centuries of footprints. My imagination traveled back in time to the countless women who wearily climbed to the top to haul water, or to find potholes which held water where they washed their hair before rubbing with yucca to give a beautiful shine to their black locks.

Before we left, Georgia suggested that I bring only skirts rather than pants, as it made a better impression on people who might take a little while to know me. It would make climbing through ruins a bit more difficult, but more politically correct for people who maintained a suspicious attitude toward strangers.

IMG_0003Stone stairway to old village of Laguna

The old church was deserted as was the village. Everyone was inside their homes until after dinner. When we had finished our own dinner, we too went outside, and as I was accustomed to a great deal of conversation, feeling that if there was a lull in communication it meant that someone was either bored or upset, I was at first uncomfortable with the silence. We simply sat and enjoyed the evening silence. Astonishing! Now and then a small ripple of laughter came as someone shared the happenings of the day. An old bedraggled grey cat rubbed against my legs and seemed content to sit quietly at my feet. Above us the village was also quiet, without even the barking of the ubiquitous dogs.

Life takes on a slower pace here in the desert. The realization that we are only here for a short time and why rush it is prevalent.

The stars shine so brightly in the Southwestern sky, and it is understandable that ancient man was able to divine the paths of the constellations while studying the skies so intently,. We slowly drifted off to bed so that we might get an early start for exploring the old village.

church at Isleta

NEW BEGINNINGS Kate’s Journal


Episode 23 Fremont 1959

375px-Mission-Peak-2006
Mission Peak in Fremont, CA

Our best friends as well as Sam’s family had all moved into this new community which incorporated in 1956 by merging five old farm districts. Business was booming with new doctors, dentists, banks etc. opening regularly. There were probably 6,000 people here when we moved; there is now an ethnic diversity of 225,000 many of whom come from nearby Silicon Valley.

We moved into our new home in Fremont and began to figure out what to do with all the additional space both in and out. I had been taking classes in Japanese Flower Arrangement for awhile, and we decided to take it another step forward and put in a Japanese Tea Garden with ponds, waterfall, arched bridge and eventually a Tea House. Dr. A took pick and shovel in hand and dug till we had a pond big enough to swim in, which ended when we threw in all the koi fish. The whole thing turned out so well various groups around town began asking permission to come take a look.

J Garden 4 (1)

I met a Japanese/American lady who was to become a good friend who was brushing up on her Japanese, so I began learning the language as well. My Campfire group began studying ancient Japanese culture whether they liked it or not!

What do you do about a gorgeous new neighbor wearing short shorts and high heels, and who looks like a TV model? Why, you make a friend as quickly as possible. Joan did not come as advertised though; she was one of the nicest and funniest girls I had ever met and we became good friends.

We tried to figure out what we could do to earn more money for Christmas, and explored all kinds of things including running a Christmas tree lot or perhaps a nursery school. I came up with the idea of painting store windows with seasonal greetings. She immediately said “I can’t paint”. But of course I could, so with her pretty face and personality she got the business and I climbed the ladders, did the work and collected the money, which was not always the easiest thing. I became known as “the hatchetman”.

We took over most of the stores in town as well as branching out into Oakland and San Jose. I received some strange requests while painting in the cold December weather. One was a book deal which I took, and several were for decorating entire showrooms. We made a real business out of it and eventually spread out into dressing department store windows, which is what I had done during high school in Alameda at J.C. Penney.

Meanwhile, our youngest daughter had a delightful Native American teacher with whom we became very close friends. She was from the Pueblo village of Isleta in New Mexico, and her husband, a commander in the Coast Guard and also a teacher, was a Quinault from the State of Washington. I have written about their stories in the past.

We began vacationing in the Seattle area and at their home on the Hood Canal which they graciously allowed us to use as our own on occasion. We fell in love with the area and eventually moved there for a time. The fishing was good, and the diving in the Canal was lovely.

We fished and hiked all over the Northwest and Canada trying all the while without a lot of success to capture the sheer beauty of the country.

Sitting around mellow with a glass of wine one evening, my friend Georgia said she was going home to New Mexico when school was out and would I like to go along? Her plan was to come back just before school started in the fall. Dr. Advice while working to get the OSHA thing going, had spend some time in New Mexico, and he agreed that it would be a good thing for me to go.

So the day after school was out we took off in Georgia’s car bound for the desert. We would be living with her various family members and traveling between Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos. We opted to do this as cheaply as possible, with me keeping track of the money which we would only use to buy books and artwork. The car was packed with art supplies and sun lotion.